Rambling rock climbing advice for NewbiesMarch 16, 2009
“I can climb that bigazz boulder…HA! I’m at the top….oh sh!t, how do I get back down!?”
Don’t laugh… this is not an uncommon comment to over-hear at some stage in your rock climbing career!
Bearing in mind that rock climbing is an extreme sport, it is adviseable not to start on your own and try to teach yourself. Courses can be taken, books can be read, and, if you are lucky enough to already know someone who rock climbs – well, then you’re onto a winner…
You don’t need to be young or extremely fit to learn to rock climb. Learning to climb is very much like learning to ride a bike. You’ll never forget the basic moves, but will need years of practice to perfect them!
Climbing is not all about strength. It is also about balance, knowing your body and being able to reposition it in space. It’s about creativity, learning to adapt to what the rock has to offer, and it’s about concentration and overcoming your fear of heights.
One of the best ways to learn how to rock climb comes from climbing with other people; you learn new tricks and techniques from climbers more knowledgeable than you are and later on, when you become more experienced, you, in turn, will be able to offer something to a partner who has less experience than you.
A lot of beginners are told “Go take a course”. Taking a few classes can help enormously, but most avid climbers will tell you that you will learn more by getting out on the rock with someone more experienced than you.
Reading books can also be helpful. ‘How To Rock Climb’ by John Long is a good one. In fact any book by John long would be a good investment – but there are many other good books out there…
Books offer useful advice, but can’t cover every situation. Written communication has inherent flaws. It is difficult to convey tone and body language in the written word. They can however give you a good start, but it’s not the real thing. You have to be out there, on a rock, with other climbers, following their example, taking advice and learning from them, and from your mistakes.
If you don’t personally know any climbers, try and find a mentor. This can be difficult. There are fewer people out there prepared to mentor someone than there are people looking for mentors. A catch 22 situation. It is worth bearing in mind that people who show determination, reliability and a good attitude attract mentors more easily – stands to reason doesn’t it?
Always ask questions and accept constructive criticism.
So many people just want to climb without taking the time to learn. It needs to be said, and repeated, that rock climbing IS an extreme sport, an extreme sport where accidents can easily happen. Don’t take risks. Don’t rush. Do it right from the start.
There are so many mistakes that can be made: from the very obvious, although easily forgotten things, such as forgetting to take water and sunscreen, and not warming up before a climb; to the less obvious and more complicated – like choosing an anchor that is not strong enough, using regular rope and not climbing rope, having shoes that are too loose, not knowing your knots properly, getting to the top of your climb and untying your rope, subsequently losing it – “Help someone – I’m stuck!” These are just a few of the things that newbies can get wrong.
Climbing is both an individualistic and social sport: when you’re on a rock you can only count on your own skills to get you to the top. However, if you do fall, you will be trusting your climbing partner with your life. Beyond question. No mistakes allowed. This often makes for very strong bonds and relationships. Choose your climbing partner with care!
So remember, hands on experience is what really matters. Books and advice on the Internet are useful – but very few learning methods can substitute hands-on experience. You won’t go wrong by supplementing your book or Internet gained knowledge with questions to experienced people in the real world, but you may go wrong by NOT doing so.
Climbing is a never-ending learning curve. You will astonish yourself by how you will always learn something new on any individual climb.
Get out there and enjoy yourself!